Q&A With Jeremy Hanlon of My Fresh Chef

OK, his story starts out simple enough -- Jeremy Hanlon was a finance major in college, then landed a Wall Street job after graduating. However, less than a year into his job, Hanlon knew cubicle life wasn't for him. He ditched it to cook. He went from watching the Food Network to appearing on it. He worked his way up through the hierarchical French kitchen at the acclaimed Restaurant Daniel in New York City, then was sent off to Europe to learn from some of Europe's best chefs. Instead of staying on the restaurant kitchen line forever, Hanlon later branched out on his own, running his own personal chef service in West Palm Beach as well as a more affordable line of healthy ready-made food options, MyFreshChef.

Hanlon also went from eating like you and I do to eating with an eye for what's possible. Instead of ordering what he knows he'll like, he orders the most adventurous items on a menu. Constantly experimenting and tasting fuels his own creations and has led him to such accolades as winning the National Restaurant Association's Hot Chef Challenge, where chefs compete to create a dish that exemplifies where restaurant trends are headed.

We picked Hanlon's brain to find out more about the mind of a chef/entrepreneur...

Tell us about three of your favorite ingredients and why you like them.
Sherry vinegar -- livens up anything you add it to. Fresh herbs -- prefer the texture and taste over dried. Tomatoes -- raw, cooked, dried, fried, savory or sweet -- they are always good!

Do you have any absolute favorite food combinations -- what are they?
Rare steak and really good mashed potatoes -- simple but so good! Manchego cheese and summer peaches. Fried egg and prosciutto on a warm croissant. Chocolate and salted sourdough pretzels.

OK, so you're in the "mad scientist zone" thinking and tinkering -- what is running through your mind? What inspires you when you create a new dish?
Whenever I create a new dish (which is every day) I start at the local markets and see what ingredients are of the highest quality and then how I can combine those flavors. After the flavors make sense, I decide what texture each ingredient should be (i.e., purée, roasted, fried, steamed, etc...), and that determines how I will cook each ingredient -- you need to have contrast to keep the diner's interest. At the end, I then decide how I can add additional flavors to enhance the dish as a whole with fresh herbs or vinegars.

So say I'm trying to impress someone for Valentine's Day, but I don't have your mad skills. Got a quick recipe to impress a date?

Most importantly -- keep it simple. Stick to making one thing really well and purchase some others already made to be the supporting cast to what you are most proud of. If you are looking for a more rustic and comfort-food dish, try this one.

For something a bit more fancy, check out this lamb dish.

Let's suppose there's someone reading this who is thinking about ditching his/her cubicle for the culinary world. Any advice?
Think long and hard, and don't rely on TV to portray the life of a chef. Too many people think they will go to school and come out and be Emeril. Don't get me wrong -- I would not change what I am doing for anything, but it is a tough industry -- long hours, low pay when you begin, etc. I would get a part-time job in a restaurant on the weekends and try it for three to four weeks. Then see how badly you want to leave your cubicle. For me, I came up with a million reasons why I ditched it -- but it was more of a passion than a job for me. I don't consider what I do a job.

Last year you won the Hot Chef Challenge. Here's the winning video you submitted. Tell us how you came up with your idea.

I researched food trends from 2009 and then compared that to what I have been experiencing via eating out and what my clients are requesting. It is no secret people want to eat healthier -- but this is so broad -- "fresh" is plastered on everything these days to make you believe if it says "fresh," it is healthy. Don't get me started. The biggest focus/trend in our industry is an emphasis on local products. Also, gluten is becoming one of the biggest allergies in our country -- so I started with one of my favorite fish -- Florida cobia -- combined it with thinly sliced fennel, basil, Florida orange segments and juice, and an achiote paste. Combined all of this and cooked the dish sous-vide (which is becoming more of the norm in cooking). Served this with spice toasted quinoa (gluten free -- it's actually from the leafy green/spinach family). It is a great blend of flavors and textures and combines the earthiness from the achiote and quinoa beautifully with the sweet orange and crunchy fennel.

Hmmm... looks like you always have a bunch of projects going on at once. What gives you that kind of energy -- is it something you're eating? Tell us about what drives you.
I drink a lot of Gatorade. Seriously, I live for accomplishment! This is why I love having more than one thing going on -- because it is being busy that gives me energy. Does that make sense?

What's next for you? C'mon, hints?
Isn't that the magic question... every day, I wake up with something else I think I am going to do. It is good and bad! My more recent passion has been television. In addition to my own morning show segment, I am finalizing a pilot for a national network. We shall see... Other than that, mostly ideas for new concepts, a few interested restaurant groups, so who knows!

Follow Clean Plate Charlie on Twitter: @CleanPlateBPB.

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